Rochdale town centre in danger of becoming an ‘urban waste land’
Reporter: Carl Smith
Date online: 03 August 2012
Councillor Dale Mulgrew has expressed his concerns over the future of Rochdale town centre, dismissing current regeneration plans as ‘not acceptable.’
The proposed new shopping area, Town Centre East, to be built in place of the ‘Black Box’ council offices and bus station, after their demolition, has come under much scrutiny recently. Reports are circulating that the developer of the Town Centre East project is struggling to receive enough interest from retailers to advance their plans.
This news comes after Rochdale’s second bid to secure support from Mary Portas’ ‘Portas Pilot’ funding scheme failed last month.
At last week’s council meeting, Lib Dem shadow opposition portfolio holder for economic development Councillor Dale Mulgrew suggested an urgent need to start a debate as to where we are with the scheme, and if a shift in its composition needs to be considered.
Councillor Mulgrew’s concerns relate primarily to the reported lack of interest in Town Centre East from retailers. With Rochdale housing an increasing number of empty store units - the latest of which being the loss of John Peers Hair Studio on South Parade this week - he fears the new development will also lie predominantly unused.
Councillor Mulgrew has advocated a mixed approach to the plans, that would include both commercial and residential elements to ensure that the scheme does not rely solely on retail.
Councillor Mulgrew called for a more focused and transparent plan, saying: “Although I could not make last week’s meeting, I have since heard the response to my very important probe around Town Centre East.
“Unfortunately it appears I have received a stock answer. At best there seems to be a curious complacency around this project, but at worst it could mean the council has shifted its priorities away from Town Centre East and this is not good enough.
The new bus station is due to be built imminently, which means the existing one and the ‘Black Box’ will be felled within twelve months. For public and commercial confidence, we need a demolition and construction schedule announced by the portfolio holder swiftly, with an outline plan around how this development is going to be delivered, otherwise, we could be facing the stark reality of creating an urban wasteland within the heart of Rochdale for years to come. From my perspective and that of the Rochdale public, this is simply not acceptable.”
In response to Councillor Mulgrew’s concerns, Councillor Peter Williams, Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Customer Services, said: “The council is actively considering the development agreement with a view to early endorsement, however, as with all complex legal arrangements involving land transactions combined with building programmes we need to consider all legal and financial implications.
“We are taking appropriate advice and the process cannot be rushed.
"Staff will start to move into Number One Riverside in January, the old municipal offices will be vacated by the end of March and when the new Transport Interchange is completed the old bus station and municipal offices will be able to be demolished in autumn 2013.
“In the meantime the council is encouraging our partners, Gener8 and Rochdale Development Agency, to continue negotiations with potential retailers and any necessary land acquisition to ensure the success of the Town Centre East proposals.
“Work continues to progress, with the construction of the Transport Interchange underway imminently.”
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